It's time for Harbaugh to make difficult changes with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed

There may have never been a better safety to ever play football than Reed. He gambles and freelances a lot, but most of the times he is correct.

I've had my share of fights with Reed, and at times he has gone over the line and made it personal. But I've never questioned his respect and love of the game, or his love for his fellow man.

Yet on Sunday, he didn't bring down Jermaine Gresham after a long reception and couldn't catch Bengals running back Bernarnd Scott on a 25-yard touchdown run around left end. Earlier in his career, Reed would have stopped that play for a 5-yard loss.

Each Sunday now, I keep waiting for Reed to make an interception and glide down the sidelines 70 yards for a touchdown in those long, easy strides.

And I keep waiting and waiting and waiting …

Like the Lewis situation, this is a tough call for the Ravens. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and Reed have a history going back to their player/coach days at the University of Miami.

But on the sidelines Sunday, players privately questioned why Reed wasn't pulled after whiffing on a tackle. The Ravens have safeties-in-waiting in Tom Zbikowski — who was dealing with a head injury Sunday — and Haruki Nakamura, but neither has the experience to call the plays on the back end like Reed, or can cover as much ground.

With the bye week, the Ravens have some free time off and this is the perfect opportunity for Harbaugh to talk with his two legends. He needs to make some modifications because the stakes are greater now, and he also could lose some players' respect without doing something.

The guess here is that Harbaugh won't do anything. He'll continue to play as usual because he doesn't believe the changes would be so significant that it's worth risking team chemistry.

Actually, he might be right. Everyone is criticizing Lewis and Reed now. We're all doing his dirty work. Great players have strong personalities, and they'll usually dig down and play just well enough to prove everyone wrong.

And if it works out that way, great. If it doesn't, then Harbaugh is open to second guessing. Until then, fans will root for Lewis and Reed because they have been heroes here for so long. They'll hope the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl and both players have enough juice left to make spectacular plays and win a championship.

And maybe then they'll leave because it would be a fitting end to two Hall of Fame careers, instead of the way they are playing now.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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